Washington Redskins vs. Denver Broncos: Takeaways from Washington's 21-45 Loss
But the Washington Redskins will know they let a 21-7 third-quarter lead slip largely due to their own errors. Mistakes were evident in both offensive execution and play-calling.
There was also still room for the now customary costly error from the special teams. The problems on offense wasted a defiant and resilient defensive performance.
The seeming unwillingness to let the running game lead the way, as well as inconsistencies in Robert Griffin III's overall game, are the leading takeaways from Week 8.
Robert Griffin III's Delivery Needs Work. Serious Work.
It is time to begin worrying about Robert Griffin III's lack of progress as an accomplished pro passer. Not for the first time this season, Griffin's delivery was wildly inaccurate.
The Broncos exposed the glaring weaknesses in Griffin's game with a simple approach. They consistently rushed three and dropped eight, particularly on third down.
That took away the kind of quick reads Griffin thrives on and forced him to work through his progressions. When he has to do that, he hesitates too long.
When Griffin did release the ball, he missed open receivers. Passes were either over or behind his intended targets.
Without read-option misdirection and play-action fakes to create open routes, Griffin is not yet poised or accurate enough to make enough plays with his arm.
Griffin's Wide Receivers Aren't Exactly Helping Their Young Quarterback
Of course, the flip side of Griffin's abysmal performance was another lacklustre showing from his wide receivers. The group that is long on talent but short on effort again failed to separate from man coverage.
The result was just 132 yards through the air against a pass defense that entered the game ranked last in the NFL.
As the leader of the group, Pierre Garcon continues to disappoint. Aside from a spectacular one-handed grab in the first half, the player who is supposed to be this team's No. 1 receiver was anonymous.
The Redskins face a two-pronged problem in the passing game. Griffin is regressing as a thrower, but his intended targets are not making his job easier.
The Offensive Line Still Can't Deal with Pressure Through the Middle
All season long, Washington's O-line has made a mess of dealing with pressure through the middle. That pattern continued in Denver.
On every pass play it seemed like Griffin was decked by a free rusher through the middle. That contributed to interceptions and eventually knocked him out of the game.
Adjustments have to be made to how protections are called and set, because it is becoming too easy to attack this offense through the middle.
A Talented Running Back Rotation Is Being Wasted
There is very little point in the Redskins boasting three starting-calibre running backs if they are not going to use them. A talented rotation is being wasted by decisions made at the play-calling level.
Lead workhorse Alfred Morris should feel the most anger at the coaches' decision to move away from the running game. He had been dominating the Broncos for much of the first half.
He averaged 5.5 yards per carry. The only problem was he didn't receive many carries in the second half.
Neither did last week's three-touchdown hero Roy Helu Jr. He had only five rushes the whole game. Evan Royster, meanwhile, continued to be missing in action.
The strength of this offense and this team is the ability to run the ball. But that strength is not being emphasized, and the results are proving the folly of that decision.
The Play-Calling on Offense Makes Little to No Sense
If any of Washington's running backs want to vent their frustrations, they should look no further than head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
It is a mystery why the pair consistently seem to try to outsmart themselves. The run was working to perfection against the Broncos and yet that didn't stop the Shanahans from practically benching Morris in the second half.
They were instead determined to find a deep pass against a defense that was packing the secondary and taking away vertical routes.
Producing a run-pass balance of 28-39 against a Peyton Manning-led team is almost criminally negligent.
The Shanahans are choosing overly complex approaches to play-calling and picking terrible times to go away from what is working.
The Defense's Opportunistic Streak Can Give the Redskins a Chance in Any Game
Manning may have thrown for 354 yards, but he was also forced into four turnovers. Washington's opportunistic defense stole three Manning passes and took the ball out of his hand to produce a pivotal fumble.
The always dangerous DeAngelo Hall again found his way to the end zone. He returned a pick 26 yards for his third touchdown of the season.
The defense has regained its flair for generating takeaways. It is a welcome habit that gives the Redskins a chance in any game.
If only the offense was consistent enough to regularly take advantage.
More Press Coverage Could Be the Right Way Forward in the Secondary
One of the defining features of a defensive scheme that had a lot of early success in Denver was press coverage in the secondary. Washington's defensive backs routinely pressed, bumped and hurried Broncos wideouts all over the field.
For the most part, it managed to frustrate Manning and his offense. What made the scheme possible was the surprising willingness of players like Hall and rookie David Amerson to be so physical.
It took the Broncos a long time to adjust. When they did, the big gains they created were from screen passes run underneath the man coverage on the outside, or crossing patterns run into an exposed middle.
But based on how well it worked early on, a press-based scheme with a few tweaks, could be the best way to improve Washington's pass defense.
The Special Teams Is Showing Improvement, but Still Can't Avoid Costly Errors
The special teams showed significant improvement save for one costly error. Coordinator Keith Burns' unit made a good recovery in the second half against the Chicago Bears last week.
This week, it was strong for most of the game. It kicked away from Denver's lethal return man Trindon Holliday and succeeded at pinning Manning deep.
But it couldn't last, and punter Sav Rocca undid all his good early work with one bad kick at a critical time. His sliced 15-yard effort with the game tied at 21 allowed the Broncos to reclaim a lead they would never relinquish.
It was an unfortunate blemish on what should have been a stellar performance and marks another entry into this season's catalogue of special teams blunders.
Somehow, Some Way the Redskins Are Still in Contention in the NFC East
Believe it or not, but the 2-5 Redskins are still in with a chance of retaining their NFC East title and making the playoffs. They are staring up at only the 3-5 Philadelphia Eagles and 4-4 Dallas Cowboys.
With some consistency on both sides of the ball and tactics that emphasize what his team does best, head coach Mike Shanahan might sill rescue a season that so far meets the definition of disaster.